Better Futures: A workforce and environmental solution

photos of Better Futures employees and guests

The Better Futures-Becker County pilot program was recognized in May 2021 for the innovative workforce approach used when diverting useful goods and materials from the landfill. With the building renovation boom still strong, I wondered how things were going at Better Futures and enjoyed a conversation with Better Futures President and CEO A. Charlene Leach to catch up on the latest news.

Has the Becker County pilot since become a permanent program? Has the program grown in employees? How many tons have been diverted in 2021?

The Becker County program is now permanent. Overall, Better Futures diverted 764 tons of material in 2021, including reuse which is 20% of the total. We are close to exceeding 2020 totals. Our program continues to grow. One interesting recent project was the deconstruction of a building on Lake Street in Minneapolis which was damaged following the protests in May 2020 after George Floyd was murdered.

The deconstruction program for the men working at Better Futures includes housing and on-the-job skills training, including OSHA and other professional certifications. Our work is focused on private homes and commercial properties.

What is the most interesting waste management “save” you have made since launching the program?

We have a customer who is a guitar luthier. He makes regular visits to the ReUSE warehouse to select reclaimed wood. In that case he is making an interesting save but from my perspective, the most interesting save is a custom-crafted doorway with an over-the-doorway oval stained-glass window and a side-light stained-glass window.

What shape is the program taking for the future?

We are exploring a second location to expand the ReUSE warehouse. Additionally, we continue connecting men with well-paying jobs, a place to live, and coaching to adopt skills and practices for success. A recent project at Fort Snelling offered all the men working on site a union membership which is something they maintain over the course of a career. Their future earning potential is now extraordinary.

Part of what we do at Better Futures is offer men a path out of poverty. With regular worker shortages, I like to remind people with jobs to offer that we have men who find value in full employment.

How can people participate in the waste management program? Are there volunteer or financial donation opportunities for people to support the program?

Absolutely! The most valuable support is hiring men who are eager to work but there are other ways to support the organization, including:

  • Donate money.
  • Purchase and recycle appliances.
  • Visit the ReUSE store.
  • Shop online.
  • Enjoy upcoming sales (weekly, Black Friday, Cyber Monday).
  • Volunteer by preparing welcome baskets.
  • Volunteer with events for men in program.

What advice do you have for people when they are shopping so they don’t inadvertently create more waste?

I encourage people to look for items with low packaging, reduce the number of items you have shipped to your home or office, avoid plastics and boxes, shop mom and pop stores, and purchase products from responsible companies who are applying low-to-no-waste methods in their own businesses. You can also purchase creative products made from reused materials.

Any parting words for our readers?

I encourage everyone to open doors for people who have paid their debt to society. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of jobs available, and employers can be a solution to their own needs. Looking beyond labels creates opportunity.

Nominations for the 2022 Environmental Initiative Awards will open on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. The Environmental Initiative Awards recognizes those working in partnership at the nexus of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy, and an equitable society.